Regulation of cytoskeletal structure and motility by extracellular signals is essential for all directed forms of cell movement and underlies the developmental process of axonal guidance in neuronal growth cones. Interaction with polycationic microbeads can trigger morphogenic changes in neurons and muscle cells normally associated with formation of pre- and postsynaptic specializations1,2. Furthermore, when various types of microscopic particles are applied to the lamellar surface of a neuronal growth cone or motile cell they often exhibit retrograde movement at rates of 1-6 μ min -1 (refs 3-6). There is strong evidence that this form of particle movement results from translocation of membrane proteins associated with cortical F-actin networks, not from bulk retrograde lipid flow4,5,7 and may be a mechanism behind processes such as cell locomotion, growth cone migration and capping of cell-surface antigens6,8,9. Here we report a new form of motility stimulated by polycationic bead interactions with the growth-cone membrane surface. Bead binding rapidly induces intracellular actin filament assembly, coincident with a production of force sufficient to drive bead movements. These extracellular bead movements resemble intracellular movements of bacterial parasites known to redirect host cell F-actin assembly for propulsion. Our results suggest that site-directed actin filament assembly may be a widespread cellular mechanism for generating force at membrane-cytoskeletal interfaces.